“Here’s what we have on the ever-running man,” Hy
He dropped the fat file on my desk and sat in one of the
clients’ chairs, stretching out his long legs and crossing
them at the ankle.
I poked the file with my fingertip. It was at least three inches
thick, with multicolored pages. “This is the job you
mentioned last night at dinner?”
“And why’s he called ‘the ever-running
“Long story. Maybe you should read the file, and then
I shook my head. “I’d prefer an overview from you
Momentarily he looked disconcerted, running his fingers through his
thick, dark blond curls. A handsome man, my husband, with his hawk
nose and luxuriant mustache and intelligent brown eyes. Normally
self-assured, too. But he seldom dealt with me on a professional
basis; I’d contracted a few times with Renshaw & Kessell
International, the security firm in which he was a partner, but
I’d reported to either Gage Renshaw or Dan Kessell. Sitting
in my clients’ chair and having me set the terms was
something Hy wasn’t altogether prepared for.
To put him at ease, I motioned to the file and said, “Facts,
reports, other people’s insights --- they’re static.
Why don’t you fill me in, make the situation come
He nodded. He was primarily a hostage negotiator, not an
investigator, but he understood the process. “Okay. You
“Why you call him the ever-running man.”
He steepled his fingers under his chin. “Because every time
anyone’s seen him he’s been running away, and because
we’ve been chasing him for two years. It seems he’s
capable of running forever.”
“And why are you chasing him?”
“He has a vendetta against RKI. As you know, we’ve got
offices in most of the world’s major cities. Some are large
--- New York, Tokyo, Paris, Chicago. Some’re medium-sized ---
Atlanta, Toronto, Sydney, Munich. And others’re staffed by
one or two people who refer clients to the nearest large office and
provide support for our operatives when they’re working in
the area. There’s a complete list of them, along with contact
information, in the file.”
“And the ever-running man…?”
Hy stood and began to pace, hands clasped behind his back.
“It started two years ago last month. January seventeenth.
The auto industry and allied businesses were cutting back on
corporate security, and we’d downsized our Detroit area
office in Farmington Hills. We had only three people working there.
On the seventeenth, the office manager was putting in overtime.
There was an explosion, and she was killed.”
“The cause of the explosion?”
“Something to do with a leaking gas line --- at least
that’s what the police said. We weren’t satisfied with
their investigation, so we sent an operative back there to ask
around. A woman who was working in an office across the street
noticed a man running away from the building a few minutes before
it blew, but it was dark and she couldn’t see him very
“You took that information to the police, of
“And they said yeah, sure, thanks a lot. And back-burnered
As Hy continued speaking, he unclasped his hands and began making
the wide, swooping gestures that are characteristic of those who
fly airplanes. I had never had that mannerism before I became a
pilot, but now I caught myself employing it with increasing
frequency. It gave me the illusion I could soar even when
“Okay,” he said. “We put it down as a one-time
occurrence. But a month later there was another explosion in a
small office in Houston. In the middle of the night, so nobody was
killed, thank God, although a witness who was returning home late
saw a male-sized figure running in the vicinity. The HPD said the
explosion was deliberately rigged, and the FBI was called in, but
they never came up with so much as a suspect.”
“And I take it no terrorist organization claimed credit for
it.” In this post–September eleventh world, that was
the logical assumption.
“No. The bomb wasn’t much of one --- simple black
powder with a primitive timing device. Guess he was still learning
how to build them.”
“Obviously that wasn’t the end of it.”
I was surprised I hadn’t an inkling of what seemed to be a
major problem, but I knew the reason Hy hadn’t told me about
the explosions before this: RKI’s inflexible need-to-know
rule. Even significant others or spouses didn’t need to know
about attacks on the firm’s infrastructure. But why
hadn’t I read about the explosions in the papers or seen
something on the news?
Well, of course. The media hadn’t linked them, and
individually they weren’t much of a story. Explosions in
distant places --- unless they’re massive or
terrorist-related --- rarely make the local newspapers.
Hy added, “The police reports’re all in the
file.” He fell silent, staring out the window at the rain
falling on San Francisco Bay.
I waited, letting him tell it in his own way and time.
“The next office he hit was Kansas City --- again, no one on
the premises, and again, someone seen running away. The KCPD techs
lifted fingerprints, but they weren’t in any of the
databases. The FBI began taking more of a serious interest. Our
people worked hard at minimizing information passed on to the
media. Not a good thing for our clients to realize that their
security firm’s offices aren’t immune to
“And, again, the case was back-burnered.”
“After a while, yes.” Hy sat back down.
“That’s when we went on the defensive: closed the
smaller offices that weren’t worth policing, and put
twenty-four-hour guards on those that were. For a while we thought
he’d stopped, but the next year he went farther afield, to
Mexico City. Guess he didn’t want to risk another bombing on
US soil so soon after Kansas City. The Mexico City PD’s
investigation wasn’t much --- they really didn’t care
about an attack on an American security firm. But the fingerprints
they found matched those from Kansas City.
“After that the guy went underground for a few months, until
the guard at our Miami office spotted someone sneaking out of the
building and got the bomb squad there in time. No prints, no leads,
and again we managed to control media coverage. Finally, last
August, he hit our training camp. Blew up a bunch of the clunker
cars we use for the new ops to practice evasionary
I thought back to the previous summer. I’d been working a
case in the Paso Robles area, and Hy had been spending an unusual
amount of time at the training camp in the southern California
desert near El Centro.
“You call in the police?”
“Hell, no. We don’t even make the camp’s
existence public. The Imperial County Sheriff’s Department
knows it’s there, but most of the locals think it’s
some secret government installation. Besides, as explosions go, it
wasn’t much of one.”
“And since then?”
“Nothing. But I don’t believe for one minute that
he’s quit. I feel like I’m sitting on a pile of
dynamite, and so do Gage and Dan. This guy’s targeted us for
some reason, and…” Hy spread his hands. “So will
you take on this job for us? Find the bastard?”
I asked the obvious: “Why, when this has been going on for
two years, are you only asking me now?”
“Dan was determined we handle it ourselves; you know how he
feels about outsiders. He was opposed to us hiring you the few
times we did. And Gage claimed it was too big a case for you, until
I pointed out some examples of big cases you’ve solved.
Frankly, I think he’s still pissed off at you for the way you
outsmarted him down south years ago.”
I smiled. Before Hy joined the firm he’d taken on a job for
them to negotiate the return of a kidnapped executive, but had
disappeared along with the ransom money. Renshaw had hired me to
find him --- buying into my claim I held a grudge against Hy --- so
he could recover the money and then kill him. Instead I’d
rescued both Hy and the executive from the kidnappers. Gage hated
to be conned --- especially by a woman.
I asked, “So how’d you convince them I was the one for
“As I said, I used examples. And reminded them that
you’re an investigator, while none of us at RKI is; what we
do is prevent crimes, and failing that, negotiate. We know now that
we can’t handle this ourselves, and as far as the cops and
FBI are concerned the cases’re cold. Besides, you’re an
outsider --- fresh perspective.”
“Okay,” I said. “Do you have any idea why this
guy has targeted RKI?”
“No, but these explosions have been rigged by someone
who’s very familiar with our operations. Maybe a disgruntled
ex-employee who’s getting information from an
“Or he’s an insider himself. In any case, I’d
need a good cover story in order to visit your offices and training
camp and talk with personnel. Otherwise, my connection to you would
make it pretty clear what I’m doing there.”
“Gage and Dan and I have talked about that. Your cover would
be that you’re my new wife and want to learn the
“A wife who just happens to own a detective
“Look, McCone, we’ve always kept our professional and
our private lives separate. I doubt anyone would make the
connection. Besides, this agency is owned by Sharon
McCone, not Sharon Ripinsky --- which is what
we’d call you. The staff at our office here in the city know
you, of course, but you’ve seldom visited headquarters or any
of the other locations.”
“Still, somebody might recognize me. I’ve managed to
keep my face off the TV and out of the papers for a while,
“So we disguise you. Dye your hair blonde --- ”
“No, you don’t!” My fingertips went protectively
to where my black hair brushed my shoulders.
He shrugged. “Cross that bridge when we come to
“Not that particular bridge. We’re never
“Okay, okay.” He held his hands up placatingly.
“So you’ll take it on?”
I considered. It struck me that we might be jeopardizing our
marriage; neither Hy nor I responded well to authority, and in the
investigator-client relationship both sides attempt to wield a fair
amount of it. “Who would I report to?”
He smiled. “Knew you’d ask. Not me; I’d never
subject you to that. You can take your pick --- Gage or
“Gage, then.” Better the one I’d had ample
practice at manipulating.
“So it’s a deal?”
“Deal. I’ll have Ted draw up the contract. But
I’ve got to warn you: since the job will take me away from
day-to-day operations here and probably involve a fair amount of
travel, I’m going to have to ask for more than the usual
“Retainer?” Hy widened his eyes, all innocence.
“How, when your husband is in need, can you charge ---
“Retainer. Ten thousand will do for now.”
“Surely you didn’t expect me to give a family
“I didn’t, but I had to disabuse Gage and Dan of the
“Well, I’m glad we’re all on the same page
We both stood, and I went over and put my arms around him. He was
wearing his old leather flight jacket, and I pressed my nose into
it, breathing in its familiar aroma.
“So you’re off to San Diego?” I asked.
RKI’s world headquarters were located in an office park in
nearby La Jolla.
“Yeah. I should be back here by Thursday,
“You taking Two-Seven-Tango?” Our beautiful
red-and-blue Cessna 172B.
“In this weather?” He gestured at the rain pelting down
outside the big arching window of my office at the end of Pier
24½. The bay, and a lone tugboat churning by, looked
“It’s a high ceiling,” he added, “so I
could fly, but I’m not a glutton for that kind of punishment.
Southwest’s five o’clock flight, a beer, and some of
those stale pretzels’ll suit me fine. Besides, you might need
the plane when you start working on this.”
“Good. I’d rather entrust you to the airlines, pretzels
We kissed, and then he moved toward the door that opened onto the
pier’s catwalk. “Read that file tonight, will
you?” he said.
“What else do I have to do?” My tone was somewhat edgy,
and I tried to balance it with a smile.
“You could dream of how you’re gonna spend RKI’s
“Yeah. Dream of writing checks to contractors for the house
renovation. I’d better read the file.”
I let myself into the apartment and shut the door, set on the glass
coffee table my briefcase and the pizza I’d bought after
leaving the pier. The one-bedroom unit on the top floor of
RKI’s converted warehouse on Green Street at the base of Tel
Hill was the firm’s former hospitality suite, reserved for
clients who had reason to fear for their safety. A few years ago a
drive-by shooter had attempted to take out one of those clients,
spraying the warehouse’s brick façade with bullets and
nearly hitting an innocent bystander. After that, Hy --- who
primarily worked out of San Francisco --- had decided the company
should shelter at-risk clients in a less conspicuous location:
they’d bought a small apartment building in a nondescript
neighborhood out in the Avenues as a safe house, and after that the
Green Street apartment went unused. Except for now, when Hy and I
occupied it while our house on Church Street was under
I turned on a table lamp, pulled the curtains shut against the
February darkness. The light revealed a sterile living room: tan
leather couch and chairs, white carpet and walls, motel art. The
rest of the apartment was equally bland, and there was little to
reflect Hy’s or my personalities or lifestyle. Most of the
furniture and breakable things from the Church Street house were in
storage while contractors worked to make the small earthquake
cottage more habitable for two people.
We both hated the apartment, and spent whatever time we could at
Hy’s ranch in the high desert country near the Nevada line or
at Touchstone, our oceanside retreat in Mendocino County. But those
places were too far away to commute from, either by plane or by
car, on a daily basis. We’d been here since the first week of
January, when renovations on the house began, and already we were
chafing at our confinement --- a confinement made more difficult by
the building’s oppressive security. If I spent too much time
there, I felt as if I were under house arrest.
And I missed my cats.
Ralph and Alice were used to going outdoors, so we’d decided
that cooping them up in a small apartment would result in chaos. In
addition, Ralph had diabetes and required twice-daily insulin
shots, which were administered by Michelle Curley, the teenager who
lived next door, because --- okay, I admit it --- I’m afraid
of needles. Finally we’d left the cats with said teenager, in
familiar territory where they would be well cared for and free to
come and go as they pleased. ’Chelle reported they were doing
well, aside from a definite hostility toward the workmen at the
house, and they certainly seemed fine every time I stopped over to
visit them and consult with the contractor. Last Friday, I’d
found them sitting on the fence between the adjoining yards; when I
patted them, they’d given me brief, friendly glances before
turning evil eyes upon our workers.
I opened the pizza box, contemplated its contents, and went to the
small kitchen for a glass of wine. Came back, contemplated again,
and decided to wait a while before I ate. My briefcase was fat with
the file Hy had presented me with, but I felt no desire to take it
out and read it. Only a restlessness that made me pace the floor as
Hy had done in my office.
I needed to get away from these white walls and the motel-style
watercolors of mountain lakes and meadows. Although I was usually
content when alone, tonight I needed company. I went to the phone
and dialed my friend and sometime operative Rae Kelleher. Only an
answering machine at the Sea Cliff home she shared with her
husband, my former brother-in-law, country music star Ricky Savage.
Only machines at Hank Zahn’s and Anne-Marie Altman’s
--- my married attorney friends who, because he’s a household
slob and she’s a household perfectionist, live in separate
flats in the same building. Only a machine at the apartment that my
office manager, Ted Smalley, shared with his life partner, Neal
Osborn. Only a machine at…
Where was everybody?
I leaned against the wall by the living room window, which looked
out onto the rear alley, and pulled back the curtains. The rain had
stopped. A lone light shone in the building across the way,
shielded by blinds. A cat slunk through the shadows. A couple of
buildings away, a garbage can lid thumped, and moments later a man
jogged along in a peculiar, uneven gait --- probably one of the
city’s many scavengers who Dumpster-dived for the edible or
I could go to a movie. No, too restless. Have dinner at one of the
many restaurants in the neighborhood? Why, when the pizza --- my
favorite, Zia’s Lotsa Pepperoni --- didn’t appeal? A
drink at the brewpub around the corner that Hy and I occasionally
visited? A walk? A drive?
No, no, and no.
Then I thought of my half sister, Robin Blackhawk. Robbie was in
law school at UC–Berkeley, and for weeks she’d been
trying to get me over there to see her redecorated apartment. I
knew she studied hard on weeknights, but maybe she’d be
willing to take a break and have dinner with me. Then I could come
back and tackle the file.
Robbie was home, glad to hear from me, and said I should come right
over, bring some wine, and she’d fix us exotic omelets. I put
the pizza in the fridge, grabbed a chilled bottle of Deer Hill
chardonnay, and left the apartment.
The guard on the desk in the lobby that night was Jimmy Banks, a
student at USF who was putting himself through a graduate program
in history by working part time at RKI. I liked Jimmy a lot, and
had occasionally sat at the desk with him, discussing San Francisco
history. I’m something of a local history buff, while Jimmy
was just getting to know the city. He was especially fascinated by
my tales of the wild days of the Barbary Coast and the Gold Dust
Saloon, which had stood on this lot before they knocked it down to
build the warehouse.
Jimmy looked up from his textbook and waved at me as I went out the
door. When I was in college, I’d also worked as a security
guard, studying between rounds at various office buildings both
here and in Oakland. At the time, I’d thought I was going to
be a sociologist --- although just what I’d do in the field
was unclear. The security job had led me into investigation when
I’d discovered that there’s little need for
sociologists who don’t possess advanced degrees. Strange,
where circumstance takes you. I hoped Jimmy would be as
My old red MG sat across the street. RKI had an underground garage,
but this parking space was so convenient that I hadn’t
bothered to put the car away in its slot. I was just taking my keys
out when ---
The percussive blast threw me against the car. I felt heat on my
face, and my ears rang. When I looked back across the street, I saw
smoke billowing from RKI’s building. The doors to the lobby
had been torn off their hinges and were lying on the sidewalk, and
glass rained down from the upstairs windows.
I scrambled around the MG, crouched in its shelter.
Another explosion, louder. It rocked the car, sending me off
balance. I righted myself, peered over the hood, saw that its paint
was blistering from the intense heat. Flames were shooting up from
the building’s roof. Through the ringing in my ears, I heard
people shouting, feet slapping on the pavement, and the sound of a
siren in the distance.
Another blast, this one quiet compared to the others, but it was
the proverbial straw. I ducked down as the building’s brick
façade began to crumble.
The Ever-running Man: A Sharon Mccone Mystery